(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Required Reading: Stephen A. Smith's Column on John Hardnett

"Who," you might ask. "Who was John Hardnett?"

Read Stephen A.'s column to find out more.

I've always wondered about the lifeblood of institutions, what makes them tick, what makes them endure over time. It's not usually about the leadership, because most institutions that rely upon charismatic leaders fail once either the leader leaves or dies or the charisma fades. The reason is simple -- all that held the place together was the charisma.

But institutions, in the true sense of the word, endure because there are those who are not presidents or members of the board of directors or the talent that faces the public, but those who contribute mightily to the place in less heralded roles, that make the place endure. Think of brand names you like and/or trust -- sure, great leadership and management had something to do with it, but over time it's because there are people involved who care so much and who don't need the glory or the big bucks. We know who they are -- they're your neighbors and acquaintances, people who cut the grass on little league fields, help churches and synagogues prepare for services, tell newcomers at companies how the place really works, shovel walkways at work when those contracted to do it show up late. . . you know who they are.

And that's where John Hardnett comes in. You see, basketball is an institution in Philadelphia in a unique way, a way that it's hard to put your finger on. It's part of the sinew and muscle of the city, a place very deeply rooted in excellence going way back to about 100 years ago with the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, continuing on through to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia's Big Five, the Public League/Catholic League championship game, to names like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Hank Gathers, Andre McCarter, Gene Banks, Lewis Lloyd, Rasheed Wallace and so many more. So many, many more.

We remember the big names, don't we? The stars. But how do the stars get there? Who coaches the youth leagues? Who mentors them? Who pushes them, challenges them, keeps them honest, humble, working hard to improve their game? Do we remember them? Honor them? Could we recognize them?

And that's where John Hardnett comes in. Coach, mentor, teacher. Read the article, see who is quoted, and you'll realize the legacy that John Hardnett left -- of mentoring, of giving something back. He might not be remembered the way some of the big-name stars are, but he might have touched more lives more deeply than they did. Everyone has a Wilt story, an Earl the Pearl or Gene Banks story. But my bet is that while fewer have John Hardnett stories, there are stories of a different type. Deeper, richer, more meaningful to the teller.

He might not have been a marquis name in Philadelphia basketball, but without guys like John Hardnett, there might not have been a marquis for Philadelphia basketball.


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